“Even novels and plays were no longer fairy-stories of entrancing young men and captivating young women who fell in love with each other in the
first chapter, and after increasingly picturesque incidents were married
in the last one in the absolute surety of being blissfully happy
forevermore.” (The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett)
At first glance, The Making of a Marchioness appears to be one of those lovely British 19th century romance books that you think you can predict from the first page. The under-appreciated, poor woman is the one chosen by the lord to wed. You’ll guess that it happens right at the end, that you’ll be lead through many steps and missteps as their courting progresses and they fall ever more deeply in love. However, this supposition turns out to be entirely incorrect. The marriage between the excessively naïve, wonderfully practical Emily Fox-Seton and her lord happens right at the start, and the story ends up being less about the couple’s relationship and more about what would drive a normal person to contemplate murder. And the theme, as it emerges, is just as surprising in the book as it is in its description.
As the development of the plot defies expectations, so does Burnett’s descriptions of her characters. She looks down on them from a position of superior intellect, pointing out their lack of brilliance and false reasoning, but also their innocence and emotional virtues. In contrast, modern authors tend to leave their characters to reveal themselves through actions and dialog, letting the reader judge the depth of their feeling or intellect independently. While I do like having the autonomy to make my own judgments, I have to say that mine are rarely so well expressed, well thought out, or as benignly objective, as Burnett’s.
Buy – Borrow Now – Borrow Sometime – Avoid
Length: 100 pgs
Ending: Resolved, Happy
Incidental Learning: London, circa 1900, English high society
Further Reading: Burnett’s ability to assess her characters reminds me of Trollope and George Eliot. Go there first before revisiting 19th century British romances like Austen.